ISEE Lower Level Reading : Determining Context-Dependent Word Meanings in Literature Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ISEE Lower Level Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #5 : Finding Context Dependent Meanings Of Words In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss (1879 Kingston ed.)

Thus talking, we pushed on until we came to a pleasant grove which stretched down to the water's edge. Here, we halted to rest, seating ourselves under a large tree, by a rivulet that murmured and splashed along its pebbly bed into the great ocean before us. A thousand gaily-plumaged birds flew twittering above us, and Fritz and I gazed up at them. 

My son suddenly started up.

"A monkey," he exclaimed. “I am nearly sure I saw a monkey." 

As he spoke, he sprang round to the other side of the tree, and in doing so, stumbled over a small round object. He handed it to me, remarking as he did so that it was a round bird's nest, of which he had often heard. "You may have done so," said I, laughing, "but this is a coconut."

We split open the nut, but, to our disgust, found the kernel dry and uneatable. 

"Hullo," cried Fritz, "I always thought a coconut was full of delicious sweet liquid, like almond milk."

"So it is," I replied, "when young and fresh, but as it ripens the milk becomes congealed, and in course of time is solidified into a kernel. This kernel then dries as you see here, but when the nut falls on favorable soil, the germ within the kernel swells until it bursts through the shell, and, taking root, springs up a new tree."

"I do not understand," said Fritz, "how the little germ manages to get through this great thick shell, which is not like an almond or hazelnut shell, which is divided down the middle already."

"Nature provides for all things," I answered, taking up the pieces. " Look here, do you see these three round holes near the stalk? It is through them that the germ obtains egress. Now let us find a good nut if we can." 

As coconuts must be overripe before they fall naturally from the tree, it was not without difficulty that we obtained one in which the kernel was not dried up. When we succeeded, however, we were so refreshed by the fruit that we could defer eating until later in the day, and so spare our stock of provisions.

Which of the following words could replace the underlined word “great” in the eighth paragraph without changing its meaning?

Possible Answers:

important

better

very

famous

high-quality

Correct answer:

very

Explanation:

The eighth paragraph consists of the following sentence:

"'I do not understand," said Fritz, "how the little germ manages to get through this great thick shell, which is not like an almond or hazelnut shell, which is divided down the middle already.'"

In this sentence, “great” is functioning as an intensifier of “thick,” so the only answer choice that makes sense is “very.” While all of the answer choices are synonyms of “great,” only “very” works in this particular context, which you can see by substituting in each of the potential answer choices for the underlined “great.” Only “very” makes sense in the sentence.

Example Question #1 : Context Dependent Meanings Of Words And Phrases In Argumentative Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Eulogy of the Dog" by George Graham Vest (1870)

The best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it the most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.

Gentlemen of the jury, a man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince.

When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives the master forth an outcast into the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open, in alert watchfulness, faithful and true, even unto death.

In the second paragraph, the underlined word “encounter” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

exercise 

avoidance 

fortune 

misfortune 

contact 

Correct answer:

contact 

Explanation:

In context the word “encounter” means come into contact with. The author describes how a man’s dog “will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world.” Of the five answer choices, “contact” fits most naturally.

Example Question #61 : Literature Passages

Adapted from "The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo" in Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (1902)

Not always was the Kangaroo as now we do behold him, but a Different Animal with four short legs. He was grey and he was woolly, and his pride was inordinate: he danced on an outcrop in the middle of Australia, and he went to the Little God Nqa.

He went to Nqa at six before breakfast, saying, “Make me different from all other animals by five this afternoon.”

Up jumped Nqa from his seat on the sand flat and shouted, “Go away!”

He was grey and he was woolly, and his pride was inordinate: he danced on a rock-ledge in the middle of Australia, and he went to the Middle God Nquing.

He went to Nquing at eight after breakfast, saying, “Make me different from all other animals; make me, also, wonderfully popular by five this afternoon.”

Up jumped Nquing from his burrow in the spinifex and shouted, “Go away!”

He was grey and he was woolly, and his pride was inordinate: he danced on a sandbank in the middle of Australia, and he went to the Big God Nqong.

He went to Nqong at ten before dinner-time, saying, “Make me different from all other animals; make me popular and wonderfully run after by five this afternoon.”

Up jumped Nqong from his bath in the salt-pan and shouted, “Yes, I will!”

Nqong called Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—always hungry, dusty in the sunshine, and showed him Kangaroo. Nqong said, “Dingo! Wake up, Dingo! Do you see that gentleman dancing on an ashpit? He wants to be popular and very truly run after. Dingo, make him SO!”

Up jumped Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—and said, "What, that cat-rabbit?"

Off ran Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—always hungry, grinning like a coal-scuttle—ran after Kangaroo.

Off went the proud Kangaroo on his four little legs like a bunny.

This, O Beloved of mine, ends the first part of the tale!

He ran through the desert; he ran through the mountains; he ran through the salt-pans; he ran through the reed-beds; he ran through the blue gums; he ran through the spinifex; he ran till his front legs ached.

He had to!

Still ran Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—always hungry, grinning like a rat-trap, never getting nearer, never getting farther—ran after Kangaroo.

He had to!

Still ran Kangaroo—Old Man Kangaroo. He ran through the ti-trees; he ran through the mulga; he ran through the long grass; he ran through the short grass; he ran through the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer; he ran till his hind legs ached.

He had to!

Still ran Dingo—Yellow-Dog Dingo—hungrier and hungrier, grinning like a horse-collar, never getting nearer, never getting farther; and they came to the Wollgong River.

Now, there wasn't any bridge, and there wasn't any ferry-boat, and Kangaroo didn't know how to get over; so he stood on his legs and hopped.

He had to!

Based on the context of the passage, the underlined word “inordinate” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

happy

strange

excessive

minimal

growing

Correct answer:

excessive

Explanation:

The author uses the word several times. Each time it is in a similar, or the same, context. In line two, it says: “He was grey and he was woolly, and his pride was inordinate.” The word is describing the Kangaroo's pride. As we know, the Kangaroo is very proud, as he is proud enough to demand things from gods. So the word “inordinate” must mean very large amount of, and another word for this is “excessive,” so the word “inordinate” most nearly means "excessive."

Example Question #411 : Isee Middle Level (Grades 7 8) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from The Fight at the Pass of Thermopylæ by Charlotte M. Yonge (1876)

The troops sent for this purpose were from different cities, and amounted to about 4,000 who were to keep the pass against two millions. The leader of them was Leonidas, who had newly become one of the two kings of Sparta, the city that above all in Greece trained its sons to be hardy soldiers, dreading death infinitely less than shame. Leonidas had already made up his mind that the expedition would probably be his death, perhaps because a prophecy had been given at the Temple at Delphi that Sparta should be saved by the death of one of her kings of the race of Hercules. He was allowed by law to take with him 300 men, and these he chose most carefully, not merely for their strength and valor, but selecting those who had sons, so that no family might be altogether destroyed. These Spartans, with their helots or slaves, made up his own share of the numbers, but all the army was under his generalship. It is even said that the 300 celebrated their own funeral rites before they set out lest they should be deprived of them by the enemy, since, as we have already seen, it was the Greek belief that the spirits of the dead found no rest till their obsequies had been performed. Such preparations did not daunt the spirits of Leonidas and his men, and his wife, Gorgo, not a woman to be faint-hearted or hold him back. Long before, when she was a very little girl, a word of hers had saved her father from listening to a traitorous message from the King of Persia; and every Spartan lady was bred up to be able to say to those she best loved that they must come home from battle "with the shield or carried upon it."

The underlined word “valor” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

courage 

humor 

intellect 

honesty 

vigilance

Correct answer:

courage 

Explanation:

In context, the author is discussing the reasons that caused the Spartan king to choose the three-hundred men who he intended to take into battle with him. The author says, “He was allowed by law to take with him 300 men, and these he chose most carefully, not merely for their strength and valor.” As the qualities “strength and valor” are two qualities used to pick the best soldiers, it stads to reason that “valor” most probably means courage. To provide further help, “intellect” is intelligence or smartness and “vigilance” is watchfulness.

Example Question #63 : Literature Passages

Adapted from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900)

Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer's wife. Their house was small, for the lumber to build it had to be carried by wagon many miles. There were four walls, a floor and a roof, which made one room; and this room contained a rusty looking cookstove, a cupboard for the dishes, a table, three or four chairs, and the beds. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em had a big bed in one corner, and Dorothy a little bed in another corner. There was no garret at all, and no cellar—except a small hole dug in the ground, called a cyclone cellar, where the family could go in case one of those great whirlwinds arose, mighty enough to crush any building in its path. It was reached by a trap door in the middle of the floor, from which a ladder led down into the small, dark hole.

When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached to the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else.

When Aunt Em came there to live she was a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had changed her, too. They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a sober gray; they had taken the red from her cheeks and lips, and they were gray also. She was thin and gaunt, and never smiled now. When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child's laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy's merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder that she could find anything to laugh at.

Uncle Henry never laughed. He worked hard from morning till night and did not know what joy was. He was gray also, from his long beard to his rough boots, and he looked stern and solemn, and rarely spoke.

It was Toto that made Dorothy laugh, and saved her from growing as gray as her other surroundings. Toto was not gray; he was a little black dog, with long silky hair and small black eyes that twinkled merrily on either side of his funny, wee nose. Toto played all day long, and Dorothy played with him, and loved him dearly.

Today, however, they were not playing. Uncle Henry sat upon the doorstep and looked anxiously at the sky, which was even grayer than usual. Dorothy stood in the door with Toto in her arms, and looked at the sky too. Aunt Em was washing the dishes.

Based on the passage, we can infer that a "garret" (underlined in the first paragraph) is __________.

Possible Answers:

a piece of farm equipment

a part of some houses

a small man-made water channel that provides crops with water

a part of all houses

a type of barn

Correct answer:

a part of some houses

Explanation:

"Garret" is used in the following context in the first paragraph: "There was no garret at all, and no cellar--except a small hole dug in the ground, called a cyclone cellar." This sentence appears in the middle of a description of Aunt Em and Uncle Henry's house. Barns, farm equipment, and water channels are not mentioned at all in the passage, and no evidence about the word's usage suggests that any of these things could be the meaning of "garret," and it would be unusual to find any of them within a house. This narrows our answer choices down to "a part of some houses" or "a part of all houses." Well, given that we are told Aunt Em and Uncle Henry's house does NOT have a garret, a garret cannot be "a part of all houses," so the correct answer must be "a part of some houses."

Example Question #32 : Evaluative Understanding In Fiction Passages

Adapted from "The Bat, the Birds, and the Beasts" by Aesop (trans. Jacobs 1909)

A great conflict was about to take place between the Birds and the Beasts. When the two armies were gathered together, the Bat hesitated which to join. The Birds that passed his perch said "Come with us," but he said to them, "I am a Beast."

Later on, some Beasts who were passing underneath him looked up and said "Come with us," but he said, "I am a Bird." Luckily at the last moment peace was made, and no battle took place, so the Bat came to the Birds and wished to join in the celebrations, but they all turned against him and he had to fly away. He then went to the Beasts, but soon had to run away, or else they would have torn him to pieces. "Ah," said the Bat, "I see now: he that is neither one thing nor the other has no friends."

The underlined word “hesitated” most nearly means what? 

Possible Answers:

Fought 

Sped up 

Thought 

Threatened 

Delayed 

Correct answer:

Delayed 

Explanation:

The word “hesitated” means was slow to act, delayed, or paused. If you were not aware of this definition, you would need to use the context of the passage to try and figure out the meaning of the word. From the context of the whole passage, you know that the bat does not want to join either side, so it would make sense for him to delay or be unsure about which side to join when asked. So, "hesitated" must mean delayed

Example Question #11 : Determining Context Dependent Word Meanings In Literature Passages

Adapted from "The Bat, the Birds, and the Beasts" by Aesop (trans. Jacobs 1909)

A great conflict was about to take place between the Birds and the Beasts. When the two armies were gathered together, the Bat hesitated which to join. The Birds that passed his perch said "Come with us," but he said to them, "I am a Beast."

Later on, some Beasts who were passing underneath him looked up and said "Come with us," but he said, "I am a Bird." Luckily at the last moment peace was made, and no battle took place, so the Bat came to the Birds and wished to join in the celebrations, but they all turned against him and he had to fly away. He then went to the Beasts, but soon had to run away, or else they would have torn him to pieces. "Ah," said the Bat, "I see now: he that is neither one thing nor the other has no friends."

The underlined word “conflict” most nearly means what?

Possible Answers:

Test 

Fight 

Work 

Party 

Celebration 

Correct answer:

Fight 

Explanation:

The word “conflict,” when used as a noun, means battle or fight. If you were not aware of this, it would become necessary to use the context of the passage to try and figure out the meaning of the word. The author says of the conflict, “Luckily at the last moment peace was made, and no battle took place.” This suggests that the word "conflict" means the same thing as "battle."

Example Question #95 : Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Luckiest Girl in the School by Angela Brazil (1916)

December and January were scarcely good months for taking pictures, but Winona attempted some time exposures, with varying results. It was difficult to make the children realize the necessity of keeping absolutely still, and they ruined several of her pictures by grinning or moving. She secured quite a nice photo of the house, however, and several of the village, and promised herself better luck with family portraits when the summer came round again. She turned a large cupboard in the attic into her dark-room, and spent many hours experimenting with chemicals. She had urgent offers of help, but rejected them steadfastly, greatly to the disappointment of her would-be assistants. In the summer she meant to try all kinds of experiments. She had visions of rigging up a shelter made of leaves and branches, and taking a series of magnificent snap-shots of wild birds and animals, and she certainly intended to secure records of the sports at school. In the meantime she must content herself with landscape and still life.

The underlined word “steadfastly” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

selfishly 

incorrectly 

generously 

wisely 

firmly 

Correct answer:

firmly 

Explanation:

The word “steadfast” means firm, committed, or consistent. The author says, “[Winona] had urgent offers of help, but rejected them steadfastly, greatly to the disappointment of her would-be assistants.” This suggests that steadfastly must mean something like firmly or consistently

Example Question #96 : Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Luckiest Girl in the School by Angela Brazil (1916)

December and January were scarcely good months for taking pictures, but Winona attempted some time exposures, with varying results. It was difficult to make the children realize the necessity of keeping absolutely still, and they ruined several of her pictures by grinning or moving. She secured quite a nice photo of the house, however, and several of the village, and promised herself better luck with family portraits when the summer came round again. She turned a large cupboard in the attic into her dark-room, and spent many hours experimenting with chemicals. She had urgent offers of help, but rejected them steadfastly, greatly to the disappointment of her would-be assistants. In the summer she meant to try all kinds of experiments. She had visions of rigging up a shelter made of leaves and branches, and taking a series of magnificent snap-shots of wild birds and animals, and she certainly intended to secure records of the sports at school. In the meantime she must content herself with landscape and still life.

The underlined word “scarcely” most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

traditionally 

unkindly

over the top 

always

hardly

Correct answer:

hardly

Explanation:

The word “scarcely” means not quitehardly,or just about. Here, the author is discussing how the months of December and January are hardly good enough for taking photographs, so "hardly" is the correct answer. "Over the top" is an English idiom that mean excessive or too much. An idiom is a common phrase or saying, like "raining cats and dogs." 

Example Question #72 : Literature Passages

Adapted from The Luckiest Girl in the School by Angela Brazil (1916)

December and January were scarcely good months for taking pictures, but Winona attempted some time exposures, with varying results. It was difficult to make the children realize the necessity of keeping absolutely still, and they ruined several of her pictures by grinning or moving. She secured quite a nice photo of the house, however, and several of the village, and promised herself better luck with family portraits when the summer came round again. She turned a large cupboard in the attic into her dark-room, and spent many hours experimenting with chemicals. She had urgent offers of help, but rejected them steadfastly, greatly to the disappointment of her would-be assistants. In the summer she meant to try all kinds of experiments. She had visions of rigging up a shelter made of leaves and branches, and taking a series of magnificent snap-shots of wild birds and animals, and she certainly intended to secure records of the sports at school. In the meantime she must content herself with landscape and still life.

The underlined phrase “rigging up” most likely means __________.

Possible Answers:

forbidding 

destroying 

making 

allowing 

photographing 

Correct answer:

making 

Explanation:

The phrase “rigging up” means setting up, creating or making. It is used in the context of Winona “rigging up” a “shelter made of leaves and branches, and taking a series of magnificent snap-shots of wild birds and animals.” This suggests that Winona plans to make something, so "make" is the correct answer. To help you, "forbidding" means the opposite of "allowing."

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